What do you do when you’re drowing in basil? That’s how I described the bounty from my garden this past week. The cinnamon basil didn’t grow, the holy basil didn’t grow, but the Genovese basil? Abundant, beautiful, silky, emerald green, bee-attracting bushes everywhere in my garden.
When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. And when life hands you an abundance of basil, you get creative…and make jelly out of it. Here, my first attempt at making an herbal jelly and the recipe for cranberry basil jelly.
Warning: it’s addictive. And delicious.
Basil from the Summer Herb Garden
I planted flats of basil seedlings this spring, unsure if the seeds would germinate. It was an older package of seeds that I hadn’t bothered to date, and it was already open. Sometimes, older seeds don’t germinate as well as fresh seeds.
In this case, the basil did germinate. I had so many plants that I tucked them in everywhere in the raised bed vegetable garden as well as throughout my flower garden. I figured that if they grew well in the flower garden, the bees would enjoy them. Bees love basil.
The abundance of basil this year meant that I could share it with friends, dry plenty of it for winter use, and experiment with many recipes I’ve earmarked to try when the herbs were finally ready.
I found a great herb book called Herbs with Confidence through the Paperback Swap Club I belong to. I took a chance and ordered it since I enjoy collecting herb books. This little paperback, dated 1986 and with the last printing date of 1990, features inspiration quotes, growing information, and herbs with recipes.
The recipe I was drawn to was one for herbal jelly. I knew you could make mint jelly, of course. What’s a roast lamb without mint jelly? But I did not know you could make jellies out of parsley, basil, lemon balm, thyme, and other herbs.
I decided to make the herbal jelly recipe from this book and use some of that basil from the garden.
Little did I know what I was getting myself into.
Adapting Older Recipes to Modern Knowledge
The recipe Bertha Reppert includes in the book is an older one. I have found similar ones in cookbooks and documents dating back to around 1864, and herbal jellies seemed to have been popular during the Victorian era.
It’s a vague recipe, however, in that the Reppert doesn’t specify a lot of very important information. For example, she says to use “one bottle of liquid pectin.” How big a bottle? Three ounces, six ounces, eight, ten, a hundred? Who knows?
She also does not include canning information but instead recommends pouring the jelly into jelly jars and sealing with paraffin. According to what I have read, that type of canning was popular in the early 20th century and prior to 1900 but faded out of use around 1960 or 1970. New, metal canning lids have seals that last longer and are safer to use.
Aside from those two problems, I also had the problem of what to use as the base for the jelly. The original recipe makes jelly out of water infusion of basil, but I wanted more flavor and color and I don’t like using artificial color. Reppert suggested substituting cranberry juice. There’s just one catch; did she mean all natural cranberry juice or is cranberry juice cocktail aka Ocean Spray cranberry juice cocktail an acceptable substitution?
Deep breath…I decided to adapt the recipe to what I had on hand. The book I’m always raving about, the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, came to my rescue. The recipe for mint jelly in that book calls for 10 minutes of water bath processing, so I opted for that.
The best book on canning and home preserving – ever.
I also opted for the Ocean Spray cranberry juice cocktail. We’d stocked up on bottles of it when it was on sale since my family likes it.
As for the liquid pectin, I had to make an educated guess. I purchased it in pouches since that was the only type of liquid pectin I could find. Each pouch was three ounces. I doubled the recipe to use up more basil, so I decided to use both pouches.
Ready? Here’s the recipe for cranberry basil jelly.
Recipe for Cranberry Basil Jelly
To make this jelly, you will need a water bath canner and eight-pint canning jars with new lids. I found extra larger 12-ounce jelly jars on sale, so I used six of those.
- 2 cups of fresh basil leaves, rinsed
- 5 cups of cranberry juice cocktail
- 1/2 cup of white vinegar
- 8 cups of sugar
- 6 ounces (two pouches) of liquid pectin
Place the washed basil leaves in a large ceramic bowl. Bring the cranberry juice to a boil in a separate pot, then pour it over the basil leaves. Place a lid or a dinner plate over the top of the bowl and let it steep for 15 – 30 minutes.
When the time is finished, remove the cover and strain the herbs out, reserving all the cranberry juice. It is now infused with the basil. Pour the cranberry juice infusion into a large saucepan. Add the vinegar and sugar, and cook it on high heat until all the sugar dissolves.
As soon as the mixture boils, add the liquid pectin and stir constantly. Keep stirring and boil it hard for one minute, stirring constantly. It’s going to foam up but that’s okay. You’ll deal with that later.
When the time is up, turn off the heat. Quickly skim off the foam. Pour the jelly mixture into canning jars, wipe the rims, and place the lids. Tighten screw band lids to finger-tight. Place in a hot water bath canner with at least one inch of water covering the tops of the lids. Place the lid on your canning pot and turn up the heat, following the directions in your favorite canning book (see above) for water bath canning procedures and safety.
Processing time is 10 minutes at a full boil. When the time is up, uncover the canning pot and wait five minutes before using a jar lifter to remove the jars. Let cool, label, and store for up to a year.
Using Cranberry Basil Jelly
Like pepper jelly, cranberry basil jelly is a savory jelly. Americans have lost their taste for savory jellies. We like sweet foods and savory jellies may seem strange to our palate.
I spooned the jelly onto Ritz crackers and enjoyed it with a glass of iced tea. You could also spread it on fancy breads, water crackers, or saltines for a delicious treat.
The taste is a great layering of flavors. First is the sweet taste of cranberry, followed the vinegar tartness. Lingering on the tongue is the taste of basil, the lush swan song of the summer herb garden.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this recipe for cranberry basil jelly. I also experimented with making herbal basil salt, which I will share with you in an upcoming recipe.
Happy gardening! Keep growing!
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Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.